Study finds that involvement in court proceedings does not influence feelings of understanding or validation for children in foster care


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Kinship adoption and the associated outcomes among children and their adoptive families

Source: Block, S., Oran, H., Oran, D., Baumrind, N., and Goodman, G. (2010). Abused and neglected children in court: Knowledge and attitudes. Child Abuse & Neglect, 34(9), 659-670.

Reviewed by: Jaime Wegner-Lohin

Ongoing debate exists regarding the involvement and participation of children in child protection related court proceedings. Most often, children placed in foster care are not involved in the court proceedings related to their care and well-being. Children are argued to have a “silent presence” (p. 659) in the courtroom, where the physical presence of a child does not ensure that he or she understands or contributes to the court proceedings. This study involved conducting interviews with children immediately following their participation in court to examine whether or not participation in and/or knowledge of court proceedings predicted more positive attitudes toward the legal system. The court related knowledge and attitudes of children (n=85) aged 7 to 10, were measured utilizing a mixed methods approach. Each structured interview involved the collection of basic demographic information and completion of both the Children’s Court Questionnaire, and the State Anxiety Inventory for Children.

The results indicated that age was a predictor of knowledge, with older children having higher levels of understanding of court proceedings. Higher levels of court knowledge were also found to be associated with a more positive attitude toward court. Indicators of legal involvement, in addition to state anxiety, abuse type, and ethnicity were found to have no significant association with legal knowledge. After controlling for demographic variables (age, abuse type, ethnicity), previous court attendance was found to have no association with court-related knowledge and attitudes.

Higher levels of state anxiety were found to be more prominent amongst older children and also associated with more negative attitudes toward the legal system. Overall, being older, a victim of neglect and/or Caucasian predicted negative attitudes toward court. Previous court attendance did not predict court related knowledge or attitudes.

Qualitative analysis of child responses indicated that most children (72%) felt that the courts were helpful in general, however, only 53% found that court was helpful to them personally, and fewer (31%) thought that court was positive for families. Greater perceived participation in court proceedings did not predict court related attitudes. This might be best explained by the findings that the majority of children (77%) felt positive toward their parents, many wanted to go home (64%), many (54%) did not know or understand the case outcome, and only 37% felt believed or listened to. This study has implications for the involvement of children in court proceedings. The physical presence of a child may not necessarily be an indication of a child’s understanding or his/her perception of having a voice, being heard or believed while in the courtroom.

Methodological notes:

Given the non-random selection of participants, the findings have limited generalizability. It is unclear if these findings would be similar across different age groups and jurisdictions. The study does, however, prove to be a rare and important opportunity to conduct research with children immediately following his/her attendance to child protection court proceedings. Though limited to correlational analysis, this research offers a number of preliminary findings regarding the knowledge and attitudes of children in foster care toward court proceedings. Further inquiry is needed to determine the applicability of such findings to other jurisdictions, and to acquire a deeper understanding of children’s court related knowledge and attitudes.

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Abu Sayem
McGill University, CRCF
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